The writer who gave us the book and the film of Out of Africa, Karen Blixen, lived in Kenya from 1914 until she returned to Denmark in 1931 to live in Rungstedlund, north of Copenhagen.
When Karen Blixen (1885-1962) wrote Out of Africa in 1937, she had already completed her short story masterpiece Seven Gothic Tales, first published in 1934 under the name of Isak Dinesen. This volume is of seven interlocking stories on the theme of desire. The stories have been described as ‘skilfully contrived as an interlocking Chinese puzzle’. (Penguin Modern Classics pub. 1963).
These are complicated stories, longer than many writers attempt today, peopled by counts and courtesans, taking the readre from brothels to Hamlet’s home town. The book contains over 162,000 words. Settings range from Tuscany, Schleswig-Holstein, Elsinore to a journey through Zanzibar. (I apologize for the quality of the photo but I had to buy this copy; no other was available at the time).
By today’s standards, these stories are heavy to read and have, in many ways, been superseded by the writings of Angela Carter but I admit to being a huge fan of hers.
Far easier is to visit her house in Rungsted. The building with its fresh and airy rooms is a delight. Flowers are everywhere, for they were a favourite with Karen. Of especial interest are her two writing rooms. I always like to see a formal dining room and this one, with the table laid with precious china, is a treat.
To return to her writing, in 1942, Karen Blixen published a volume called Winter’s Tales, again under the name of Isak Dinesen. To my delight I found a copy in the rare books department of an online second-hand bookseller. The book was sold, in 1976, by Camden London Borough for the great price of 30p. There are eleven stories here, the first The Sailor-boy’s Tale, is swashbuckling adventure, taking the reader from a ship on the high seas to the exploits of a darker world in port. It is a murder story with a happy ending – for the murderer.
Two Danish Writers II: Hans Christian Anderson follows next week.